It’s been 14 years since I originally “licked the plate” at the iconic Besta-Wan Pizza House in Cardiff.
And with a recent change in ownership, I thought it about time to get back to this charming neighborhood joint with plenty of character and now some intriguing new menu items.
The backstory is also fascinating, so let’s start with that first. The pizzeria was first built as a single-family home in 1942. It remained that way until 1965, when Richard and Virginia Corder transitioned it to the original version of Besta Wan Pizza House.
The restaurant has changed hands a couple of times over the past few years, most recently acquired by KC and Eric Bauer, Encinitas residents for the past 20 years who wanted to continue the rich, funky tradition first established by Besta-Wan, while adding some of their own touches.
One of those touches is Eric’s Chicago-style Italian Beef, reflecting his Second City roots. Eric’s extensive culinary background as an executive sous chef and owner of a consulting firm has influenced the menu, with recent specials such as Spotted Bass Ceviche, a daily fresh catch from local waters, and a House Made Ice Cream Sandwich.
But don’t worry, folks, the solid core menu remains the same, and my rediscovery of Besta Wan will have me returning for more.
The weekend brunch is a Cardiff tradition and still packs them in for the Besta Classics, as they call their lineup of classic dishes like the Avocado Levain Toast with smashed avocado, Dorati tomatoes, chili flakes, sea salt and poached eggs. The Benedictos, Huevos Rancheros, Chorizo Scramble, and create-your-own omelets, scrambles or hashes from a seemingly endless list of ingredients are also fun.
During my first visit to their brunch years ago, I learned that Besta Wan is also renowned as a day drinking hotspot, with the infamous “Man” Mosa taking center stage. The vibe is loose and far more celebratory at Besta brunch, that’s for sure.
But for the sake of covering the menu, it’s time to move on to the salads, burgers and sandwiches, all of which are equally enticing. I’m really into a good Italian Chop Salad, and Besta does it right. The Besta Burger stands up to the best in the area, and the unique Tears for Spears crispy house-fried pickles are super fun and delicious.
That said, the Chicago-style Italian Beef caught my eye before my first visit back. Having spent three years working blocks from Al’s Italian Beef in Chicago, I have opinions that go far deeper than the current hype resulting from the popularity of the television series “The Bear.”
Eric’s version with garlic and herb roasted roast beef, sauteed peppers, onions, and giardiniera on a toasted Turano roll is spot on. I’d suggest mixing in some other fine items from the menu and then splitting one, as it’s sizable.
This brings me to the big draw at Besta, and rightfully so, the classic thin, crispy crust, tavern-style pizzas (or bar pies) cooked well done with sauce, toppings and cheese to the edge and cut into manageable two-bite squares. These are done best in a pizza oven from Ohio-based Peerless, which has been in the pizza oven manufacturing business for over 100 years.
Attention to detail can make all the difference when going for authenticity. Besta Wan offers a dozen options, including create-your-own pie, but the Besta Wan Special with ground beef, pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, onions and mushrooms is my go-to favorite. I should mention that since my visit, Eric has added one called The Cheef with Italian beef, red sauce, mozzarella, spicy giardiniera, wild oregano and pecorino Romano that I am very curious to try.
Even with the plethora of pizza options in North County, I would have to rank Besta’s among my favorites. I think enjoying the pizza in a charming, funky Cardiff dining room while playing some tunes on the jukebox and enjoying a beer or glass of wine from a decent selection is the way to go.
Daily specials that may surprise and delight are popping up, so keep an eye on their Instagram page for regular updates.
In the age of look-alike and copycat restaurant concepts, Besta Wan is a true original in an epic location minus any of the pretense or coastal attitude of many area restaurants. There’s no need for that here; it’s the real deal with a personality and a menu to match. I’m adding it to my monthly stop list.
Visit www.bestawanpizza.com for location, menu and hours.